Tuesday, 4 November 2014

World Trophy 50K Final

Race Day for the 50K in Doha turned out to be rather a long day.

Andi leading the way in the 10K
I started out as a supporter for the 5 and 10K races which kicked off at 7am. I met my new-found relative Carolyn and we watched and cheered as her husband (Ron) and daughter (Natasha) set off to run their first ever 5K race. The course was slightly different to the loops that we were due to run that evening, but it meant that we could see the runners at several points and cheer them on. Andi Jones had a clear lead when we saw him for the first time just after the 2K mark, and I wondered if he would get round his second lap of his 10K before the others finished their run, but the conditions slowed him down (first 5K in 15mins, second 5K in 17:20). Ron ended up with a surprise 3rd in category prize, while Natasha was 9th in hers, but had taken it easy with her friends for most of the run and so knows that she has plenty in reserve next time she gives it a go (I was glad she hadn't tried harder as it meant that I could use 9th place as my target for later on)!!
With Natasha post-race (pre-8am!)
The temperature was starting to climb so I didn't stay around and socialise for too long afterwards......OK, OK, I confess I wanted to get back to the hotel dining room before they closed after the 4 hour breakfast buffet!!

An evening race is not something I'm familiar with - I'm used to getting up, having breakfast, panicking and then running - so I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself for the rest of the day. Somehow I managed to pass the time dozing, snacking, reading etc until it was time for a late lunch. I figured that this might give me time to digest my food properly without being too hungry pre-race....and from the number of us in the restaurant, it was clear that many of the others had a similar ideas!

Pre-race carb loading!

I'm not sure that partaking of a chocolate fountain and popcorn stand is recommended pre-race nutrition, but I figured that it would give me some much needed energy later....and was just plain too good to miss!!!

We had been told to muster in the Athlete's Village at 5pm - this was really just an enclosure outside the hotel, right by the race start, and as the race wasn't due to start until 6pm it didn't seem necessary to stand around in the heat. Paul Marteletti and I wandered out at about this time to claim a "table" on which to place our drinks/gels, and were amazed to see people "warming up" and doing some strides. I thought it was all about keeping your body temperature as low as possible for as long as possible, and so retreated back to my room to get ready.

It was dark when we made our way back to the start area at 5:45pm, but it was a friendly sociable atmosphere as we joked with other international runners and those in the open race - and it was nice to see Andi and his family who come back to support us fellow Brits (there were 2 British men and 2 British ladies in the Elite field).

I started in my usual position - away to the side and several rows back from the front. The darkness made it seem more likely that some trampling could happen, but luckily people were sensible and realised that there was no point haring off at the start of a 50K race (the 19 first leg relay runners only had 10K to do, but thankfully the organisers had arranged for them to start 5 minutes after us).

My main goal in the preceding day or two was to identify Emily Harrison so that I didn't go off and run with her in the race. I knew that if I did, then I would live to regret it as she's such a speedy runner - (having a 2:32 marathon and a 3:15 50K qualifier to her name, and thinking of targetting the US 50K record of 3:12 depending on conditions).

2 of the lovely running surfaces!
The intial part of the race was rather dark but as we passed by the roundabout at the front of the Hotel and headed round the complex (on some lovely cobbles), the lighting improved and it was easier to see who was around and running at a similar pace. It turned out that we had formed into a group of about 8 of the international ladies and ran the whole of the first 5K lap together (we were due to run 10 x 5K loops each one containing three 180 degree turns). As there are a couple of switchbacks en route, it was easy to spot people running slightly behind our pack, such as the two Russian ladies I knew from previous runs (both at Comrades and at the 100K in 2011). We passed a guy wearing the vest of the Doha Bay Running Club (whose colours are identical to Dumfries Running Club, so I initially found it quite offputting when I kept spotting them) who warned us all that we were going much too fast and should pace ourselves.

Due to the timing of the race, we heard the "Call to Prayer" early on through the loud speakers around the park - it was slightly surreal to be running in heat and humidity, in the dark, over tiles, while listening to that....we really fel that we were truly in the Middle East!

We passed the international feed tables just before the end of the lap, with several runners calling out their requests to their support crew as we ran along parallel before turning and passing the tables. Having no "crew"I had left bottles out lined up on a table (some with gels attached) so that I could just grab them myself as I passed. As I approached the table, I couldn't spot the bottle of water I'd wanted for that lap.....it just wasn't there anymore. As only the elite men had passed by, I figured that some local kids might have moved it, but I later found out that it was one of the men, who'd turned up to the race with no drinks or nutrition of his own - and just thought it was OK to take other people's!

We were still running comfortably at a pace where we could chat, so when I mentioned my missing drink, Emily made sure that I knew where the next  feed station (provided by the race organisation) was, so at least I knew I could get some water in a little over a mile's time. I made sure that from then on in, I would always avail myself of any feed station I passed, usually grabbing one or two bottles of water - one to go straight over my head to try to keep my core temp down, and the other to sip a bit of before sending it the way of the first.

After 10K
On this lap, the group started to fragment a bit, and so by the time we reached the 10K mark, there were only 4 of us running together, though Valeria (the other British lady) kept catching up with us and then dropping back slightly. I figured that Emily had just been warming up for the first couple of laps, so when she and Catrin (of Canada) moved away from me in the third lap, I let them go. I wanted to keep them in sight as they seemed to be taking turns at leading and hence working together, whereas I was all alone in "no woman's land". After my experiences at Glasgow in the summer, I knew that this was a dangerous place to be, as it would be all too easy to switch off and forget I was actually "racing". They did, however, seem to stay the same disatnce ahead of me once they'd opened up a gap, so we were probably back to running at the same speed.

I felt that I was maintaining a steady comfortable pace, so when Valeria shot past me again, I wasn't drawn into picking up the pace, and she was behind me again by the next switchback. The nature of the course meant that you had several opportunites to see those behind you, and so I could see the field spreading out. The next couple of laps seemed to tick by with us all maintaining our relative positions - though at one point Catrin opened up a gap, but it subsequently closed up again. I don't like to have too much liquid in my stomach without eating, so i was glad of the slight seedy nature of the gels I'd brought with me (when I got them, it was joked that they would last an extra long time, as I'd be spending most of it picking seeds out of my teeth due to the real fruit components!).

The switchbacks also enabled me to see the leaders of the men's race approaching from behind me, but I really wanted to get past the 25K mark before they lapped me, as that meant that they (hopefully) wouldn't lap me twice within the same race! The leading pack (3 of them running close together) didn't catch up and pass me until 28K so at least I'd achieved one of my targets!!

Passing the "international" tables
Emily had moved ahead of Catrin in my race, but I don't think that she had really picked up her pace, as I also then caught Catrin and moved past into 2nd place, though I didn't really move very far ahead of her. Coming through the start/finish line at 30K, I heard them announce Emily as the race leader......and then I crossed the line....to silence!! A few paces down the road into my next lap, I heard the announcement that they were waiting for the second placed lady (and they expected Catrin) to see what the gap was. I felt slightly aggrieved that I'd run by unnoticed, but it turns out later, my chip hadn't registered on that occasion (as happened to several of the men). Some people following back home seemed to think it had taken me 42minutes to do a 5K loop, though luckily most people worked out that that was my time for 2 laps, ie 10K.

By then, it became a countdown of laps to the finish. I could usually see Emily up ahead of me (with a cyclist accompaniment) and I could see that I was starting to stretch the gap from Catrin when we ran the switchbacks. Another man passed me, but then I overtook the Kenyan man who had been leading the race (well, when I say "overtook", he had been lapping me!). Due to the nature of the course, I had seen Paul and the Irish runner behind him for a few laps, but was surprised that they didn't speed by me, so they must've been slowing down (relatively) in the heat and humidity.

I looked forward to the end of each lap as you got to see familiar faces at the feed stations (one of whom commented that - as in Glasgow - I always seemed to be smiling) and you got to take on your own nutrition, so I was very unimpressed to get there and find out that my bottles and attached gels had disappeared. I was feeling a dip in energy (and surprise surprise, my stomach was protesting that it was empty!!) so this was a major blow. I put it down to runners in the open race, or local kids, but again found out later from other athlete's support teams, that one of the international runners had been helping himself to my supplies! Not very sportmanlike behaviour - it could have cost me a place, and certainly gained him places...and hence prizes!!

Carolyn and Ron had come back to support me after the morning's race, and so it was lovely to see them for my last few laps - a familiar face is always a great boost!

Paul finally caught me at just before the 43K mark and so it was nice to be able to chat briefly. I was so jealous of him being on his final lap, whereas I still had a further one to run. Paul suggested that I use any of his remaining gels to make up for my missing ones as he was about to finish, but I wasn't keen to use any other competitor's nutrition, especially without really knowing how my stomach would take to it. I gave Paul a shout to finish strongly and then waved one finger at Carolyn and Ron telling them I had one lap to go. Unfortunately Paul didn't move over to the righthand side to the finish funnel, and didn't hear me shouting at him, so he then had to leap over a barrier in order to cross the finish line. As I started my last lap, I gave him a cheer and a wave, saying that I'd "see him in 5K"!

I didn't think that I would be able to catch Emily so I tried to run as comfortably as possible on the final lap, though I was worried that Catrin might have something in reserve and shoot past. It was rather reassuring to get to the 3k marker on that lap and see her at the 2k marker, as I knew then that my position was pretty safe.......though I guess a race is never over until it's over (as several people did drop out quite late on in the race).

Surprisingly, Carolyn and Ron were still out on the course - I had thought that they might have moved to the finish. It turned out that after I'd told them I was going for my last lap, they'd gone to the finish, but been told that I still had 2 to go, and so they thought I must've meant that it was my "last lap before the last lap"......again, due to that chip mis registering earlier!

The "flower ceremony"
The organisers saw me running fast down the finishing straight and realised what had happened, so checked and confirmed that I had run the full distance.....and so I finished in 2nd place, less than a minute behind Emily (who finished looking fabulous, and had obviously paced herself well). After that it got a bit surreal....starting with being given a goodie bag containing a finisher's medal, tshirt, some boiled sweets and a plum of all things!

Post-race recovery?
The top 3 ladies were presented with flowers and a miniature statue of the Torch hotel on a podium....and then I was given some lovely refreshing frozen yoghurt and fruit. Then off to drug testing......and when this had been done successfully, they gave us a "Qatar drug testing" tshirt and thermos flask to say thankyou! One of the other competitors became unwell after finishing, vomiting and dropping her blood pressure, so I switched into "race medic" mode, while still finding time to eat a pizza and ride a camel!

On returning to the hotel at about midnight, there was still more food laid out for us, before we all finally headed back to our rooms to collapse, though as it turned out, nobody could actually sleep due to the adrenaline high! 

The result didn't really sink in for me......I'd come into the race with no expectations, ranked well down in the field, and just wanted to have a good long run and see how the conditions affected me. I guess I did all that I'd set out to do, but also finished with a silver medal, a confidence boost, and some great new friends.......and I'll take that anyday! 

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